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Managing food allergies in the workplace

Reading time: 3 mins 27 secs

Alice Sanderson, February 18, 2019

With an estimated 1-2% of adults suffering from a food allergy, it is likely that at some point you will encounter an allergy in your workplace, but are there any laws surrounding allergy management, and what are the responsibilities of bosses?

Common allergies

People may suffer from allergies to any food, but the 14 most common allergens are listed by the Food Standards Agency (in no particular order) as:

  • Celery (including celeriac)
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites (a preservative)
  • Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour, found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
  • Molluscs (e.g. mussels, oysters, snails and squid)
  • Gluten
  • Crustaceans (e.g. prawns, crab and lobster)
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts (these don’t fall under nuts, despite the name they are legumes)
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, and macadamia nuts

The latter eight are known as the ‘big 8 allergens’ and are thought to be responsible for 90% of allergic reactions.

The law

There is some debate about which section of UK law allergies fall under.

Under UK employment law employees have the right to fair and reasonable treatment at work, and management of an allergy may fall under this.

Likewise, allergies may also fall under the category of a disability, depending on the severity, and there have been some cases where employees with allergies to things such as peanuts or latex have been held to be disabled.

The employee may therefore be covered under the Equality Act 2010. Under this law it is your employer’s duty to make a reasonable accommodation (i.e. an adjustment) to items you work with or the way you work to protect your health.

The Equality Act also means that an employer cannot discriminate against you during the recruitment process, or with your contract, promotions and training opportunities. They also cannot dismiss you due to your allergy.

What adjustments can be made?

It doesn’t take much for someone to have an allergic reaction, even just a single seed could trigger one. It is therefore crucial to make sure you follow safe steps to prevent them coming into contact with potential allergens:

  • Make people aware of your allergies
    If you have an allergy, you are not required by law to inform your employer, but it is certainly safer to do so, especially if it is life threatening. By giving them as much information as possible, they can put suitable adjustments in place.
  • Checking all ingredients
    Even when a product may not seem to obviously contain an allergen, it can be hidden amongst the ingredients. If someone in your workplace has an allergy, make sure you triple check that everything you bring in doesn’t contain anything that could cause them to react.

    Allergens will usually be marked in bold on food packaging, so they should be easy to spot. If you’re buying from a café, just ask.
  • Separate utensils and storage
    If you do bring in food containing allergens, make sure you don’t share utensils or storage spaces with anyone with an allergy. Residue on forks, plates or even cupboards could trigger a reaction. It is also important to ensure you clean thoroughly.
  • Flexibility
    As part of making reasonable accommodation under the Equality Act, employers should allow employees with allergies to take time off to attend allergy related appointments.

    It should also be recognised that they may need unexpected sick days if they’ve had a reaction and need time to recover.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of training
    You also need to make sure you know what to do if someone does have a reaction.

    First aiders should be trained on what to do if an employee has an allergic reaction. If they need an Epipen, the first aiders need to be made aware of where it is at all times.  They will also need training on how to administer it.

Helping

Every allergy differs, but taking time to understand and accommodate employee’s allergies is beneficial. You don’t want to fall foul of the law, but you also want to make sure that no one suffers an allergic reaction.

If you feel that you have been treated unfairly at work due to an allergy, our employment solicitors may be able to help. Call us today to find out what we can do to help you.